Date: February 19, 2019
Game Time: 9 pm EST
Location: Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri
TV Channel: You can watch the game on ESPN.
Announcers: Karl Ravech, Jimmy Dykes and Laura Rutledge will call the action.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington or online at UKAthletics.com.
Odds: Kentucky opened as an 10.5-point favorite, and it’s grown to 11.5 as of Tuesday afternoon. KenPom projected Kentucky to be a 9.5-point favorite.
Predictions: ESPN has a lot of confidence in the Wildcats and gives them an 87.3% chance of winning on the BPI matchup predictor. KenPom isn’t far behind, giving Kentucky an 82% chance of winning and projects an 80-71 win for the road team. TeamRankings projects a 72-61 Kentucky win, while numberFire is going with a 73-64 margin for the Wildcats. Go here for betting trends and our own prediction.
While we wait for the game, check at Kentucky’s all-access look at the win over Tennessee:
“You’re prepared for this. What a great opportunity, literally for every guy in the room just to go play. This is a man-oh-man game. Let’s help each other.”— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 19, 2019
Without further ado, #TheJourney: Chapter 25 – The Statement Edition#DreamBIG pic.twitter.com/Bz01VnT9dw
Coming off one of their bigger wins in recent memory, Kentucky hits the road to face Missouri on Tuesday night.
With six conference games left, there is still plenty of time to close the gap on the SEC regular-season championship. The Cats will have another crack at the Vols in a few weeks down in Knoxville, and they also need some help from LSU. But by no means is the SEC race over if UK can stick to their winning ways.
Above anything else, Kentucky has to take care of business on the road in Columbia, a place where they lost last year.
Now in his second season, Cuonzo Martin has taken a step backward this year after winning 20 games and finishing tied for 4th in the league a season ago. The Tigers are just 3-9 in conference play, and will be coming off a double-digit loss on Saturday at the hands of Ole Miss.
Missouri’s 68 point per game average is one of the worst in the conference, which doesn’t bode well with UK and their seventh-ranked KenPom defense coming to town.
While Missouri’s record leaves a lot to be desired, they have some nice talent and capable shooters that can make this a game if the Cats don’t come prepared. And don’t forget how much trouble Cuonzo Martin has given Kentucky in the past, as he currently sports a 2-2 record in his last four matchups with the Cats.
If Kentucky can just establish the frontcourt and not turn the ball over, they should get revenge on the Tigers in Columbia.
3 Keys to the Game
Let the SEC Player of the Year eat
PJ Washington is making a clear case for why he is the best player in the Southeastern Conference. His dominating performance against No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday night reminded everyone just how unstoppable he is. Now with at least 20 points in 7 of the last 8 games, you can make a case that Washington is deserving of All-American consideration.
The Cats wasted no time against the Vols in establishing the PJ Washington jump hook early on in the game. This strategy is something that needs to be adopted to start all games moving forward. When Washington is getting deep position on the inside the only option for an opponent is to double-team or surrender an easy basket. If the double-team does come, PJ Washington has proven himself to be a willing passer who will make the right play.
For the season, Washington has now moved his averages up to 14.8 points and 8 rebounds a game. I’d say coming back to school for a second year was a wise decision and that will be reflected in June’s NBA draft.
I’d expect PJ Washington to once again lead the Cats in scoring on Tuesday night down in Columbia.
Limit the Tigers perimeter scoring
Missouri does make 8.5 threes per game while shooting it at over 37%, so they’re fully capable of making this a game if they get hot from deep.
Racking up long range shots is about the only way that the Tigers can stay in a game against a team like Kentucky. Sophomore guard Mark Smith is making 47% from three, which is one of the best percentages in the conference. He doesn’t take a ton of shots, but the ones he does shoot he knocks down. The Cats will have to find Smith in transition and not aggressively help off of him when a Missouri player is driving to the basket.
The perimeter scoring for the Tigers will come mostly from Mark Smith and Jordan Geist, both of which have over 100 attempts from deep so far this year. With the exception of Jeremiah Tilmon, everyone in Missouri’s starting five will take the open three if given the opportunity.
Kentucky is going to be very difficult to beat when the opponent isn’t shooting well from outside. LSU was able to find a way to win with only hitting 6 total threes, but I don’t see that being a possibility for a team like Missouri who is going to struggle to matchup with Kentucky at every position.
Hold the Tigers to 8 or less makes from deep, and UK should win easily.
Silence the crowd out early
Even though the Tiger fanbase has not had much, if anything, to cheer about this season, they will still be fired up with Kentucky coming to town. That is especially true considering all of the national hype the Cats are getting after completely dismantling the No. 1 team in America.
It is also important to remember that Missouri beat UK 69-60 on their home floor last year. It would serve the Cats well to come out aggressive and build a lead that will deflate the crowd in Mizzou Arena. Last season, the Tigers defeated Kentucky behind a sold-out crowd of 15,061 fans.
A few PJ Washington early baskets will go a long way in silencing the crowd and immediately taking away any confidence that Missouri may possess. It will be very challenging for the Tigers to mount a comeback if they get down early.
Players to watch
Jordan Geist - 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game
The senior guard from Fort Wayne, Indiana is the primary option for Missouri on offense. He has had nine games this season with 17 points or more and will be coming off a 23-point performance Saturday on the road at Ole Miss. Obviously, Geist will be getting the Ashton Hagans treatment on Tuesday night, which should slow him down. It will take a big effort from Geist if Missouri is to have a chance in this one.
Mark Smith - 12.1 points per game, 47% from three
Smith doesn’t attempt the most long-range shots on his team, but he makes them at a high rate when he does. He has 10 games this season with 3+ makes from deep. Just a few weeks ago, he went 6-11 from three against Arkansas. A big reason why Missouri has lost five of seven is because Smith missed six games due to injury, then played just three minutes in Saturday’s loss to the Rebels.
Jeremiah Tilmon - 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game
Tilmon is a load inside and has the talent to make an impact even against Kentucky’s stellar frontcourt. He scored 9 points on 4-4 shooting against UK last year. Tilmon is shooting an impressive 57% from the field this season. As long as Washington and Reid Travis keep Tilmon contained, the Tigers will struggle to keep pace with the Cats.
Javon Pickett - 8.3 points per game
Pickett is the fourth scoring option for the Tigers and he will be ready to let it loose from deep Tuesday. He’s attempted 6+ threes in three of his last four games, hitting 8/21 (38%) during that span. Holding him under his average will greatly hinder Missouri’s hopes of an upset.